Jonathan Lewis has had a long and varied career and vocation as a social justice activist and social entrepreneur. He is Founder of MCE Social Capital, an innovative social venture that finances small business loans to deeply impoverished people in 33 countries around the world. He is also Founder and President of the Opportunity Collaboration, an annual global strategic business retreat for anti-poverty leaders, and also co-founder of Copia Global, an Amazon-like consumer catalog. Jonathan has taught social entrepreneurship and lectured at universities around the world and is the author of the newly published The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur, a candid and provocative account of the challenges and questions facing all social entrepreneurs.
Ron Cordes is a veteran of more than 30 years in the investment industry – he co-founded and then sold AssetMark Investment Services. In 2006, together with his wife Marty, Ron set up the Cordes Foundation — a family foundation focused on social entrepreneurship, impact investing and creating economic opportunities for women, later broadening its focus to include ethical fashion brands, sustainable manufacturing and engaging millennials in impact investing. The Cordes Foundation was one of the first foundations to commit itself to aligning 100% of assets to mission. Ron also chairs the Executive Committee for ImpactAssets, an initiative to catalyze capital for impact investments, formed in partnership with the Calvert Foundation.
In this interview, Ron talks about how he got started in philanthropy and talks about the work of the Cordes Foundation, highlighting the Foundation’s long-standing focus on providing economic opportunities for women and girls, and its growing interest in ethical fashion. Ron discusses the recent growth in impact investing and shares his views on the importance of generating market related returns within the sector. He discusses the Foundation’s pioneering move toward aligning 100% of assets to mission and some of the big changes taking place in philanthropy today. Finally, he talks about Opportunity Collaboration, an annual global poverty business retreat he co-chairs, and the Cordes Fellowships provided to emerging global social entrepreneurs.
Kevin Starr has been supporting social entrepreneurs since before we used the term. He built the current incarnation of Mulago Foundation, a private foundation that funds early-stage social entrepreneurs devoted to maximum impact at scale in the lives of the poorest people in developing countries. In 2003, Kevin set up Rainer Arnhold Fellows Programme to apply Mulago’s principles and tools to help social entrepreneurs turn good ideas into lasting change at scale. The Mulago Foundation is currently funding fifty or so social ventures including Last Mile Health, One Acre Fund, Blue Ventures, Komaza, and The Boma Project.
In this revealing interview, Kevin talks about the Mulago Foundation’s investment philosophy and the different ways it supports social entrepreneurs. He presents a simple model of sources of finance for social entrepreneurs-and advises as to the appropriateness of each– and he shares his thoughts on how social impact can best be scaled. Kevin gives a frank assessment of the state of impact investing today, warns of the dangers of investors prioritising business models over impact models, and cautions social entrepreneurs about over-reliance on for-profit business models when working on solutions for the very poor. (A version of this interview has previously been posted on the Financing Social Entrepreneurs site).
Simprints is a nonprofit tech company from the University of Cambridge that is building an affordable, secure, rugged, open-source fingerprint system that works in the world’s toughest settings. According to the World Bank, an estimated 1.1 billion people, the majority of them living in Asia and Africa, struggle to access basic services and rights due to an inability to prove their identity – Simprints is developing open source software and biometric hardware to break this identification bottleneck and empower mobile tools used by researchers, NGOs, and governments fighting poverty around the world.
In this interview, Toby sets the scene explaining about the identity challenges faced by poor people around the world and the disastrous impact on their lives, particularly when it comes to healthcare. He talks about the company’s journey from initial idea to set up and growth and the scale of the different challenges that they have faced at different stages of the journey. Toby explains the thinking behind setting up as a tech non-profit and identifies the different skills that they have needed to develop to succeed. He talks about the invaluable support that Simprints has received on this journey, and the different partnerships it has developed. This is a inspiring-interview, rich in insights, with lots of hard won advice for social entrepreneurs in all sectors.
KJ Erickson is Founder and CEO of Simbi, an innovative technology platform that allows people around the world to exchange or barter services. Users can do exchanges directly, or for credits that can be spent in the Simbi network. Prior to Simbi, KJ spent 9 years as the Founder and Executive Director of FORGE, a nonprofit that provides education, skills training, and entrepreneurial resources to more than 70,000 refugees in war-torn Africa.
KJ has won many awards include the Skoll Scholarship for Social Entrepreneurship, the Do Something Award for public service, and the Stanford Haas Public Service Fellowship
In 2014, KJ was a Skoll Scholar at Oxford’s Saïd Business School where she completed her MBA. In this interview, KJ talks about the roots of the Simbi idea, how it works, and common misconceptions. She talks about her experience as a social innovator and some of the challenges they have faced building the business. KJ gives a candid explanation why she thinks professional investors like FundersClub, Y Combinator & Greylock Partners invested in Simbi –and talks about her future aspirations for the business.